Defending Cyber Schools and Homeschooling Parents

Published July 1, 2001

When the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School began operating this school year, it drew approximately 500 students from 105 school districts across the state. Although the state’s charter school law requires the home districts of these students to pay tuition to the charter school, about half of the districts balked. When the state Department of Education said it planned to withhold nearly $850,000 from the non-paying districts, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association in April sought an injunction against the Department.

The association argued the state’s eight chartered cyber schools “are not true charter schools” but are “home-education programs relying on a high dose of technology–primarily the Internet–to deliver instruction and curriculum.” On May 11, Commonwealth Court Judge Warren G. Morgan ruled the cyber school in western Pennsylvania “is operating lawfully,” denying the request for an injunction and allowing the Department of Education to withhold funds from the non-paying districts.

Some Pennsylvania school districts make clear their dislike for homeschoolers by harassing parents who choose to instruct their children at home. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) currently is defending a mother who was charged with truancy after homeschooling her child for just five weeks and then returning him to public school with a portfolio of his work and an evaluation. After a judge dismissed the truancy charge, the school district demanded she provide numerous additional work samples from her son’s home studies or face further legal action.

Some states are more hostile to homeschoolers than others. Adjusted for population, Massachusetts is among the top three or four states in the country for requests for legal help from homeschoolers, according to the HSLDA. In the early 1990s, two Massachusetts homeschool families refused to sign an agreement with the Lynn Public Schools that would have allowed the district to conduct random home inspections. When the case finally reached the state’s high court in 1998, the court held that home education proposals “can be made subject only to essential and reasonable requirements,” and home inspection was not one of those requirements.

A more recent home inspection case involving a North Carolina homeschooling family is now being appealed to that state’s high court. The case has troubling implications for all Americans, not just for families who educate their children at home. Again, the HSLDA defended the family in court.

After the two-year-old daughter of home educators Mary Ann and Jim Stumbo ran outside for a few minutes one morning while her parents were in the house, an anonymous tipster called the Cleveland County Department of Social Services and reported seeing the child outside alone. In response, a social worker stopped at the Stumbo’s house later that morning and asked to come in and talk to each of couple’s four homeschooled children alone.

When Mrs. Stumbo refused, she and her husband were charged with obstructing an investigation. A trial judge agreed, saying Fourth Amendment protections did not apply in this case. An appeals court agreed with the obstruction charge, ruling the social worker’s investigation was not a “search” covered by the Fourth Amendment.

“In other words, in North Carolina and most other states, American citizens have no protection against well-meaning social workers acting on an anonymous tip and must cooperate or risk arrest and prosecution,” noted syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker.

For more information . . .

see the homeschooling cases listed under each state at the Web site of the Home School Legal Defense Association,